CHICAGO - DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy understands all eyes are on him.
He’s about to make his first major hire since he got the job in August, one that will go a long way toward defining his tenure, now that the Blue Demons have fired coach Dave Leitao. And the pressure is on to get it right.
"I would hope that it’s my first and last," Peevy said Tuesday. "That’s how you’re supposed to get this done. You want to operate at a high level of efficiency. I’ve been prepared for this my whole life, whether it was getting this job or being in this seat."
DePaul fired Leitao on Monday, six years into his second tenure in another effort to lift a once-proud program. The Blue Demons went 5-14 overall in a season that started about a month late because of COVID-19 issues. They finished last in the Big East Conference for the fifth consecutive year at 2-13.
Leitao was 127-146 over nine years at DePaul. He led the Blue Demons to a 58-34 record from 2002 to 2005 and their most recent NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2004. But his second stint was nowhere near as successful.
He’s out of a job. And now, all eyes are on Peevy. It’s a particularly important hire at a school where there is no football team.
"I don’t feel the pressure," he said. "That’s what I’m getting paid to do. This is a high-level part of my job. ... Now, it’s showtime."
Peevy said he hopes to make a hire within the next month. DePaul is working with Chicago-based executive search firm DHR International.
Peevy spent the previous 12 years in Kentucky’s athletic department, going from a role in media relations to deputy athletic director, and oversaw the Wildcats’ powerhouse basketball program. He was the SEC’s media relations director before that.
Peevy said he would start reaching out to candidates on Tuesday. He has a long history with New York Knicks assistant Kenny Payne, who spent 10 years on John Calipari’s staff and was Kentucky’s associate head coach before leaving for the NBA.
"The thing about me in my past 20 years, I’ve worked with so many coaches, whether it’s at the SEC being the media contact for men’s basketball, assistants on those staffs and having relationships," Peevy said. "If you think every person I know is a candidate, you’ve got a pretty big pool. Those will be factors because you get a head start on who you know, what they’re all about and who they are as a person."
Peevy said he wants a program builder with experience as a college head coach or assistant. He’s not necessarily looking for a quick fix, to win with transfers next season.
"As soon as we can get to the tournament with stability and be there for a long time, that’s the goal versus a quick fix," he said. "I think that’s going to have a lot to do with who we hire."
DePaul will sell the next coach on the opportunity to restore a program that once ruled winters in Chicago as well as on playing in the Big East, in a sparkling arena and in a city with a deep recruiting pool.
"If you’re a coach that’s a candidate for this job, you better have connections to Chicago recruiting, period, whether you’re from here or you’ve signed kids from Chicago or not," Peevy said. "You’re not a high-level recruiter if you’re not recruiting Chicago, in my opinion."
The Blue Demons have been upstaged in recent years by Loyola Chicago, another Catholic school about a 25-minute L ride north of the Lincoln Park campus. The Ramblers made the Final Four in 2018 and are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years.
Illinois, meanwhile, has the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. And the Illini and eighth-seeded Ramblers could meet in the second round.
DePaul, on the other hand, finished last in the Big East for the 11th time in 13 years. But to Peevy, it’s not about being the best team in the city or state.
"I’m dreaming bigger than that," he said. "I want to be relevant. I want people worried about us not just in Chicago or this state or this region but nationally. If we take care of our business, if we strive for those types of goals, Chicago will take care of itself. There’s no disrespect to the other schools, but we have a unique opportunity here. I want people to fear what we’re doing."